We rounded a bend in our little motorhome and crossed a small bridge over a nameless creek on a country road. The little stone bridge was not noteworthy except I immediately recognized it as a turnaround point on a 10 mile route I often ran when we stayed at Beacon Hill Campground. Beacon Hill in Lancaster County, PA was, in fact, our destination for the weekend. It is less than an hour from home but being in the middle of Amish country it seems like a world away.
One of my favorite aspects of camping has been getting up before dawn, slipping on my running shoes and heading out for a run early in the morning. It has always been an opportunity to explore as the sun began it’s day. I’ve found lovely back roads, scenic trails, stately mansions, farm markets, and quaint produce and gift shops. My wife is always amazed at the places I’ve discovered while running. More than once when returning to a campground in a traffic problem I have surprised her by knowing which back road could get us around the problem. “I ran this way” was my response to her queried look.
Of course this weekend is different. I am still wearing a boot after being diagnosed with post tibial tendon dysfunction. While my foot doesn’t hurt most of the time, due to the brace I still “feel” injured. I am still surrounded by running paraphernalia and, as we rolled passed the stone bridge I had to catch myself when I thought “I’ll run here again next time”. Except I won’t. My mind has not yet moved on from the idea of never being a runner again.
The bridge is just one of many examples. In addition to my routes around our favorite local areas there was the run from the campground into the town of Mystic, CT last year. It was an awesome 9 miler and I ran it multiple days. I would dawdle at the drawbridge in town for a bit watching the fishermen catch porgies.
There was the run along the coast of Kennebunkport in Maine. The mornings there were beautiful and I rewarded myself afterward with a cup of coffee and the world’s best chocolate croissant at the little bakery in town. In my mind I still have the images of the little landmarks of these routes. Things unnoticed by every day passers by like a bit of uneven sidewalk, or an autumn olive bush overhanging the road. Today, two years later, I could still pinpoint the drain pipe where the chipmunks hide along Beach Avenue near Kennebunkport.
Closer to home, I had several great places to run at my buddy Joe’s Pocono retreat including the road up to Boulder Field, a remnant of the last ice age.
I also ran long loops around the game lands where we hunt. The area is loaded with big black bears. I encountered one happily gulping down wild blueberries on my route through the game lands. I was making three big loops of about 6 miles and the bear was gorging on berries the entire time. The first loop he retreated to the edge of the timber when he saw me. The next time by, he watched cautiously but didn’t run. On the third loop my passing didn’t even phase him. He happily watched me run by, his muzzle smeared with blue goop while he chewed away on a mouthful of berries. He looked at me as if to say “Isn’t this a great day”?
I hadn’t really thought about how many miles of roads and trails I’ve run in the last 11 years until I was told I shouldn’t do it any more. I thought that I would miss the opportunity to race more than I would miss my every day runs. I realize now what a big part of my existence those daily, mundane runs had become. I’m learning to live with it though and I do have the memories. I’m also learning to sleep in and live with being a bit heavier and less fit.
Yesterday morning, instead of running, I got up, put my clunky boot on and walked into town. Beacon Hill Campground sits just a 1/2 mile or so from Intercourse, PA. Intercourse is home to the Kitchen Kettle Village and a variety of other shops selling Amish and country wares. I figured I’d meander about the quiet town until the village coffee shop opened. As my boot and I made our way down Main Street, I passed a shop with iron lawn ornaments on display. Being Lancaster County, the full display was left outside all the time. It included Halloween silhouettes of a jack-o-lantern, and a witch among other things. Like the bridge, these signs of fall snapped my mind to another place: A cold, late-October morning, with wind driven leaves scudding across the crown of a back road and the anticipation of the hunt.
Thoughts of rut-crazy bucks and mallards on set wings instantly polluted my brain. Suddenly, I could smell fall leaves and spent shotgun powder. The image only lasted for a second and then I was back to the beautiful June morning in Intercourse. A girl in a summer dress hung the “Open” flag in front of the coffee shop. I went in and ordered a cup of coffee and scanned the pastries. “What can I get you?”, she asked. With autumnal thoughts lingering in my brain I replied “I’ll have the pumpkin muffin”.
I sat outside enjoying the morning but thinking of days in the future when I may not be quite as fit, but still able to ascend a tree and wait for the telltale crunch of deer hooves in leaves. Running may be gone but I’m not dead and do have other passions.